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Red Runs the Witch's Thread by Victoria Williamson - Review and Blog Tour

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the blog tour for Red Runs the Witch's Thread. I hope you like my review and I invite you to click around a little bit and read some of my other reviews. I've read a lot of Victoria Williamson's books now and enjoyed all of them so when I saw there was another of her books on tour I grabbed at the chance! I was lucky enough to receive a paper copy of this book and it came with some other goodies too, including a raven necklace, a mini sewing kit, and some sweeties! Amazing, it really brightened up my day so thank you!

First of all I'm not really sure where to put this book in terms of genre. It's kind of got a Young Adult feel to it even though the main characters are adults. I think that's partly because there are flashbacks to when the main character, Christian, was a small child. The book is set around 1720 and I really liked the historical setting. Victoria is good at historical fiction and makes it feel accessible to a modern reader. 

She is now thirty something and she is a widow. She has had to move back into her childhood home, with her mother and her two sisters. She is trying to perfect the art of bleaching thread, so that her thread would be the finest in the land and she can sell a lot and regain her family's fortune. She is a lady, after all, but the family has been on hard times since the death of Christian's father three years previously. Christian is sending herself a bit mad with the soap and the lye and the sun bleaching of the thread, but she is determined to do it. But everyone in the house is a bit wary of Christian because of what happened when she was a child. Christian is aware of this but also thinks she's being stalked by the ravens which come to the window and haunt the house and gardens. She begins to have flashbacks of what happened before and it's clear madness is taking its hold on her. 

The parallel narrative tells us what happened when Christian was little. She fell ill and accused several people in the area of being witches. Eight people were condemned to death and Christian and her father went to watch them being hanged. Since then she has never had a monthly bleed, making her barren, which shortened the list of men who would marry her... And now it is now and she is carrying a lot of guilt around. Christian's youngest sister is desperate to get married but Christian's reputation may stop that. A potential suitor comes to visit, and everything goes really wrong. 

In all I liked the story; I liked the setting and Christian and her sisters (the other one is really mean and spiteful, which is actually quite funny within the story), but I wish we had seen a little more of her mother. Christian's descent into madness is all too real and I really liked it. I did guess the twist around two thirds of the way through, but I thought it was set up really well and done well. 

Thank you for having me along! 

Every Happy Family by Sarah Stovell - Review

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

I requested this at the library because I had seen it and thought it sounded good. Generally, I'm glad I read it but I did find it weird and a little bit repetitive of other stories I've read before. The front cover also really looks like Spilt Milk which I read only a couple of weeks before this, which is weird! 

So it's Christmas in the book, but it didn't really feel like a festive read so I didn't mind reading it at this point. Minnie is seventy ish and all of her children are returning to the house for Christmas. Her middle child and eldest daughter, Lizzie, lives two hundred miles away from Minnie's Cotswolds home, with her daughter Ruby, and her friend Tamsin, and Tamsin's daughter Daisy. The two women aren't romantically linked but they have made a conscious decision to live together and co parent. Ruby's dad was abusive towards Lizzie and she finally got out; she thinks that Ruby doesn't understand what happened between them but Ruby knows far more than she's let on. Ruby is thirteen now so definitely not a baby. 

Minnie's youngest daughter Jess has just had her second baby (like literally two days before Christmas). She is married to Anna, and they already have a little boy, Rowan, who is three. Jess is much younger than her siblings. Her dad is Minnie's second husband, Bert, who is a bit of a non entity in the book although he is there. Minnie and Bert are both academics and are just very into intellectualism and stuff. Minnie doesn't think that Lizzie is clever enough - she's always been a bit ignored in the family I think.

Then there's oldest child Owen. He has been living in Australia for years and the family has barely seen him. He's marriedto Sophie and they have a thirteen year old girl too, Layla. Owen and Sophie's marriage is on the rocks and Sophie decides not to come to England for Christmas. Layla, like Ruby, knows that there's something going on between her parents, but doesn't know exactly what. Minnie is so excited to see her son even though she knows there are tensions between them. 

And the tension goes by the name of Nora Skelly. She was a childhood friend of Lizzie's and had a trouble childhood because her mother disappeared when she was around twelve. Similarly, Lizzie and Owen's dad, Minnie's first husband, Jack, was an alcoholic who died when Lizzie was around eleven or twelve. Minnie had spent a lot of time clearing up Jack's mess so when he died she was mostly just relieved. But obviously his kids missed him, and Owen in particular started going off the rails a bit. He and Minnie had a lot of tension between them. But then he started going out with Nora. I did feel a bit sorry for Lizzie here cos she kind of got sidelined, but she seemed okay with it. Owen seemed to settle down and things were okay. But then something happened, and the family fractured, hence why Owen has basically been estranged from his mother and sisters for years. 

Nora is back in the village because her dad has died. His house needs putting up for sale and she needs to sort it out. She has been in touch with Owen, and he wants to invite her for Christmas. I won't say more of the story but I will say that it did feel a bit stereotypical, like I've read similar stuff before. 

I liked Lizzie a lot and felt sorry for her. She had been through a lot and always been a bit sidelined by her brilliant siblings and mum. I genuinely wanted her to be happy! Owen was likeable in parts although sometimes he did stupid things. He mostly just wanted everything to be okay, though. The teenage girls were both good characters, doing the types of things that we all did at thirteen. Jess isn't portrayed very much in the book and although it makes sense to why it was hard to get to know her. 

Minnie though was just very unlikeable and difficult to understand. She makes selfish decisions and although the main one is something I won't spoil, I felt like I did understand WHY she made that decision but feel she could have been kinder about it? She was sort of just really into herself and no one else. Everything has to go her way, and it emmerges at the end of the book that she manipulated a lot of happenings in ways I just found ridiculous. I didn't like her.

In all I'm giving this three out of five. I am glad I read it, but I did find it odd. 

The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag - Review

Sunday, April 7, 2024

This was also one of the books that I borrowed from my friend Chloe. I had heard of it before and really wanted to read it, and I'm really glad I did because it's lovely. It's set on an island which I think is in Canada somewhere, and there are four girls who are friends. Morgan is our protagonist. She lives with her brother and her mum, and life has been hard since her dad left. (I think, maybe he died). Her brother is antagonistic towards her and her mum, and life just isn't like it was. Morgan has lots of secrets now, including the one where she thinks she might want to kiss girls. 

Morgan slips into the sea one day and almost drowns, but is saved by a mysterious girl called Keltie. Keltie then comes ashore and woos Morgan - with some really outlandish phrasing that was very endearing and which makes total sense in context - and the two girls start a secret relationship.

But Keltie doesn't want to stay a secret, and Morgan's friends are suspicious. Plus her friend Serena's birthday is coming up and the party is going to be on her parents' boat. The boat is also going to do tours round the island, and that is something that is worrying for Keltie... 

I loved the mysticism in this book and I loved Keltie and how adorable she was. I loved Morgan and really sympathised with her. All of the illustrations in this book are just so beautiful - full colour and in gorgeous sea shades. The artwork is just beautiful. 

I really liked this and am giving it five out of five. 

Queerbook by Malcolm Mackenzie - Review

I got this book from Amazon recently because I had a goft voucher from my work for Christmas and hadn't spent it yet. I had seen the book while spending a different voucher in Waterstones, and was highly tempted, but went for other stuff instead. So I got this off Amazon and picked it up really soon after it arrived.

It's a book about LGBTQIA+ people, and is aimed at teenagers and young adults. It's all written in an accessible and fun way, with little boxes and diagrams and fun illustrations. I liked this because it made it really easy to read. There are many parts to the book, including sections on identity andterms, queer spaces, queer history, queer culture, and some helplines and so on. Each sup chapter within these sections are just a few pages long at most, meaning this is a brilliant book to dip in and out of. 

There's a lot of stuff about the 'first' queer people to do X, which was really interesting and which places us firmly in the culture which has borne us. There are mentions about historical people who may have been queer, and those who definitely were. I'm way past the intended audience of this book but it still taught me a lot of things about history, and it gave me some new to me media to check out, like films, TV programmes, and books. I need to write some lists actually to remind myself about some of these things!

I would recommend this to any teenager, queer or not, just so they can learn some things and hopefully make some connections. I'm giving this five out of five, it's a very good little book. 

Plus. who can resist an endorsement from Gillian Anderson?! 

Spilt Milk by Amy Beashel - Review

Thursday, April 4, 2024

When I had some gift vouchers to spend on books after my birthday, I saw this book a couple of times and nearly bought it, but made other choices instead. So I ordered it from the library instead. And I'm actually really glad I didn't waste some of my voucher on this book because I didn't like it and found it hard to read. I've been thinking about why exactly since I finished it last night, and all I can think is that neither of the main characters are nice people, and it's hard to feel sympathy for either of them. This book took me so long to read which is how I can tell that I really didn't enjoy it. 

I loved the blurb though. Bea is a teacher and a blogger. Her website is pretty popular; she writes about motherhood and her daughter Mabel. She and Craig, a hairdresser, have been together for about five years, married for four, and decided to have a child when Bea's mum was dying of cancer. Her mum only held on long enough to meet Mabel and then died. Mabel is now just over two years old and Bea is unexpectedly pregnant again. She has had an IUD fitted without Craig's knowledge and it has failed. She is pregnant.

And she is just very, very tired of life. She doesn't regret her daughter, but. She finds the labour that she is expected to do for her whole family just very, very tiring. For example, Mabel is being potty trained, so when they go out they still need to take nappies and spare pants, and Craig never thinks of this kind of thing. She is working, part time, and Craig seems to think that when she's at home with Mabel she's not really working, she's just sitting watching TV. But she knows about the cleaning, washing, all of that stuff, and she's just not sure she can do it again. She presents a perfect family life online, but life is far from that.

So she decides to have an abortion in secret. She gets an appointment on a Friday morning, on a day when Craig is in France cycling with his friend, and Bea is supposed to be travelling to London for the 30th birthday of her friend Kim, leaving Mabel at home with Craig's parents. She is alone with Mabel on Thursday night and gets drunk, and thinks she did something like tell Craig about the termination, but no... But then, while she's on her way to London, a post goes live on her blog where she details the fact she's going to have an abortion and details that she regrets her daughter, or at least, regrets what her life looks like now. This was one of my first problems with the book because the blurb says that Craig finds out from 'the national press' but that's not true, he finds out from her blog. That made no sense to me and annoyed me. 

All hell breaks loose. Bea goes viral and gets some horrible trolling about why she doesn't deserve her child, etc etc. Craig is still in France and really upset, which isn't a surprise, but I did feel some sympathy for her because he's off in France with his mate and he orders a new bike and decides he will do a triathlon, all of which are things that will take him out of the house more and away from Bea and Mabel. So on that I'm on her side because it's like, you've got a small child mate, you need to be in the house with your wife and child. 

The two of them used to live in London and swore that they would do marriage 'differently'. However, Bea's mum got ill and Bea ended up moving to Shrewsbury to help look after her. Craig didn't want to come but then he said he would move if Bea agreed to have a baby. He's a total dick here for putting that on her when she was already grieving her mum. In all, it seems like she's still grieving for her mum and that's why she's so fed up with the daily grind of family life. She desperately needs some counselling.

However, Bea is not without her faults either. She met Kim online because they're both bloggers, and they're now bezzie mates, and spend hours on the phone together every Friday night. And yet Kim doesn't know that Bea's mum died! Come on! That's ridiculous. You spend hours talking to each other but you've never mentioned that this monumental, earth shattering thing happened?! I don't buy it. 

Plus she has this friend Della, who she's been friends with since school. Della is bi and married to a woman, and expecting twin babies. Bea doesn't want to complain about Mabel to her because she's had gruelling IVF and all of that, which I do get, but surely Bea could make some mum friends and talk to them?? It's stupid. She also does something later in the book to Della which really pissed me off and I'm not surprised Della stopped speaking to her. Bea is really quite selfish and I don't mean for the abortion - which I totally support - but for everything else. Clearly women do take on this kind of labour and I'm not surprised she's fed up, but the execution of the story just didn't work for me. 

The book moves in a weird pace which made it hard to read. It flashes back to Craig and Bea's relationship and marriage in Las Vegas, so sometimes it's not obvious if something is happening now or has happened in the past. Also, my copy was ridden with spelling errors - for instance at one point someone takes something out of a 'draw' not a 'drawer' and there's reference to Brittney Spears with two Ts. That really annoyed me too. In all I'm giving this three out of five because I wanted to like but just didn't. 

Norfolk by Elly Griffiths - Review

Monday, April 1, 2024

My friend Sarah bought me this book for Christmas and I picked it up in the towards the beginning of March and kept it on the sofa to read it when I was eating tea or just chilling out. It was quick to read and I really liked it, plus it looks absolutely stunning. 

You may know that the Ruth Galloway books are set in Norfolk, where Ruth teaches at a fictional university and where she lives right on the edge of the salt marshes. Many things in the books happen in the wilds of the Norfolk countryside as well as in its towns. Elly has family history there, which I've heard her speak about before, and which she outlines in this book. 

She intersperses her own history alongside extracts from the Ruth books, set at places specifically mentioned, and also talks about her inspiration for some of her settings, writing, and words. It's obvious that Norfolk is a big part of what makes these books great, and Elly uses the settings to great effect to ramp up the menace a lot of the time. 

The photos are absolutely stunning too. Justin Minns is a very talented photographer. I've been to Norfolk but only a couple of times, but it was nice to recognise some of the places in the photos. I love photos of the seaside so it was nice to see Cromer, in particular. The book is divided into seasons, too, and the photos really show Norfolk in all its glory throughout the year. 

I really enjoyed dipping into this, it's a cute little book for the Elly fan in your life!

Spare by Prince Harry - Review

Friday, March 29, 2024

I listened to this book on Spotify and it took me forever! I was really interested to listen to it, but I don't listen to audiobooks that much - mostly just on the way to work and back just once a week. This is also really long at nearly sixteen hours long! But I persevered and I finally finished it in the middle of March. I've already had some interesting conversations about it and if you've read it I would love to hear your opinion too. 

It's read by Harry which was a plus in its favour because I find him quite personable and it was interesting to listen to him for so long. But I am glad to have finished this!

So I'll start off by saying that I am in no way a Royalist. I would get rid of the Royal Family in its entirety if it was up to me. I don't buy any of the arguments for keeping them, so I'm not a fan. But I do find Harry interesting, to say the least. I think he's done a lot of work on his privileges since he met Meghan and is doing well... but is still a ridiculously overprivileged person with no real idea about the real world. I also sympathise because of course he lost his mum so tragically, and I did already think that the press had just been terrible towards Harry and Meghan and was interested to see what he had to say. I guess I'm saying I like him more than some of his family, but still wouldn't say I'm a fan.

I will also say that in any given situations there are shades of truth. There's my truth and perception, there's your truth and perception, and there's the actual truth, which is probably somewhere in the middle. People bring their past experiences and prejudices to any situation, and they don't always have all the information that they might need to understand the entire truth. So some of this book I think is definitely just Harry's perceptions of many of his experiences.... many of which stem from feeling like he's just the 'spare' and not the heir. 

The book is roughly split into three parts - the first part details his early life and the death of his mother, and his school days. The middle part is his later teens, his time abroad, his military career, his early relationships, and the 'naughty' Harry that the papers kept writing about. The third part is about Meghan and their relationship and the abuse Meghan suffered, and their escape to California, and the birth of their two children. The book ends just as the Queen died, and honestly, if I was Harry, I don't think I would ever forgive my family for that debacle. 

Overarching themes are that Charles is very closed off from his sons and that a lot of issues could be solved if he wasn't, that he tells them to not read the papers instead of like actually doing something, and that he courts the press himself when he wants to, that William is a self entitled douche because he's the heir, that William doesn't like to rock the boat but is resentful when Harry does, that the Queen has to be consulted on literally everything, that Harry and Meghan really should have been given security even now, that they didn't want to leave the family but needed more help and protection, that Harry has just been badly let down since he was a child by a lot of the adults in his life. And I would include Diana there too. She has her own stuff going on when he was just little. It's obvious that Harry has looked for parent figures outside of his own family, maybe just because he is a more emotionally mature person and craves that in others. 

The first part was interesting because there's a lot of stuff about the ways and traditions of the Royal Family that I just didn't know, and that Harry just accepted when he was little. As he grows up he pushes back against some of these because he just wants to know the why of certain things. For example, he has to ask the Queen's permission to keep his beard for his wedding day, and William is angry about it because he wasn't able to. But it's not obvious if William even asked, or if he just took the 'no' from courtiers as an answer and shaved. Harry clearly didn't accept this, and William complained about it. I also felt for Harry as he just clearly felt like the extra part and just not wanted very much. Royal life seems lonely and like you're just shunted from one place to another, and Harry seems to have been thought of as the 'thick' one. It was interesting to hear about where he was when 9/11 happened as that's something that unites all of us of a certain age above. And in fact, Harry is only 8 months younger than me - I turned forty in January and he will turn forty in September. 

The second part was interesting too, because there was all of Harry's rambunctious party ways as well as his military career. I knew he had served but didn't know too much about it. I do think he talks about killing members of the Taliban in a really blase, unbothered way. I would have liked a deeper dive into that. His experiences travelling in Botswana and at the north and south poles were really interesting too - but again, he glosses over the immense privilege he has had in being able to go there in the first place.

The third part is adorable because it's just their love story. It would be hard for anyone, even Meghan haters, to not feel for them as Harry describes falling in love and being besieged by the press. It's obvious that Meghan has suffered disgusting racist abuse and just nonsense because she didn't understand royal protocol - but who of us would? Like for instance closing her own car door - don't we all do that automatically when we get out of the car? We've been doing it since we were small children, for goodness sake. I have to say I wouldn't wait for an aide to do it either!

It's clear that Harry loathes the press, but it's easy to understand why, too. Not only because of his mother but because of what he's suffered through and his wife. I'm not surprised he's suing them; I am surprised that family's reaction seemed to be like, oh well, what can you do? He doesn't seem to like Camilla very much at all. It's easy to believe his version of the truth on most things, but I know that that can't be right. But it's easy to WANT to believe him, too. 

In all I'm giving this four out of five. I'm glad I listened to it all. 

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak - Review

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

This was my book club book choice for March. We previously read Three Daughters of Eve by the same author back in 2020. I did quite like it but didn't love it, but I had liked it enough to give this a go. I ended up loving this and now want everyone to read it so we can talk about it!

So the protagonist of the book is Leila, known as Tequila Leila, a sex worker in Istanbul, who is murdered at the beginning of the book. Her body is put in a dumpster and as her brain shuts down, she thinks back over her life and introduces the reader to each of her five friends, and explains how and why she's ended up murdered and abandoned. The second part documents what happens to her body and the third part documents what happens to her soul, but these parts are much smaller than the first part. 

Leila grew up in a place called Van with her mother, her father, and her father's second wife, who she called Auntie. She learns that she is actually Auntie's daughter when she is around ten I think. Auntie has another baby then, a son, which pleases Leila's father, but he is unwell, and doesn't survive much longer. Leila's parents are pretty neglectful of her. She leaves home when she is sixteen and escapes to Istanbul. I think her parents want to marry her off and she refuses. 

She starts to work as a sex worker on a street in Istanbul with legal brothels on it. It was really interesting to read about the changing fashions of the women and how the country became a bit more conservative over the course of Leila's life. Her first friend worked in a factory near the brothel and then disappeared; when the two reconnect Nalan has come out as trans as is living as a woman. She is the first of the five. There are flashbacks to how they met and stuff, which is repeated with each of the other friends and which is a really clever way of writing this in a novel. Each of the five learns about Leila's death and they rush to find her because they know her family won't claim her body and they want to claim her before her body is taken to an unmarked grave in a dedication cemetery. 

I can't remember all of the friends which is ridiculous because I only finished this book a couple of days ago as I'm writing this, but they are all outsiders in Istanbul's hierachy for one reason or another. Silan was a friend of Leila's from childhood and he lives a respectable life with his wife and children, but he loves her and wants to stay in touch. He just doesn't tell his family that he is friends with a sex worker. There's Jameelah, an African immigrant, there's one who is a little person, and there's another, the details of whom have left me. I really liked the friends and there's a lot in the book about found and chosen family which I really liked. 

I loved Leila and found her story sad, but with joyful parts too. She falls in love with a man called D/Ali (not a typo) and gets caught up in a riot. The story of Turkey sizzles away in the background. I reckon that my book club will have really enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to discussing it. I'm giving it five out of five.  

Razor Blade Tears by S A Cosby - Review

Friday, March 22, 2024

This book was given to me in a swap that I joined in with at Christmas. I said I liked crime novels and was sent this. It wasn't the type of thing that I would normally pick up but I was intrigued by it, so I was pleased to receive it. I recently realised that I need to read all my Christmas books before the year gets away from me entirely, so I picked this up. In all I did like reading it, but I didn't love it, so I wouldn't bother picking up something else by the same author. 

For a start it's really gruesome! I'm not particularly squeamish but I found this quite hard to read at points. There's a lot of gore, so I would consider that a warning if it's something you don't like. I won't be passing this on to my mum because she would find it too gruesome I'm sure! I also found it really hard to read the slurs that are used in the book - they do all fit in context and I understood why characters said them, but it's still hard to read. The N word is used a number of times, and so is f***ot for gay people. Neither of these are terms that I would use so I find them hard to read. But I'll get on to their context... 

Secondly, I felt that the book needed a better edit. There's something peculiar to American writers where the paragraphs just don't have the correct grammar and it makes it hard to work out who's speaking at times. This means that I had to read some pages twice in order to get a grip on to who said what. I wish these authors would just use more paragraphs! And understand that is Person A is doing something in one paragraph, that paragraph really belongs to them and their actions and reactions. And then Person B needs a whole new paragraph for what they're doing. Don't tack on what Person B is doing at the end of that paragraph because it's confusing! 

Thirdly, it's just a really dense book. Things keep happening and they just don't stop happening. I really wish we had had a little bit more downtime, but I understand that's the nature of the book. So it's fine. It fits with the genre. It just made it really hard to read. It took me nearly a week to read which was just too long in my book. 

Criticisms over, here's what the book is about:

Ike is a Black man living in Virginia with his wife Mya when their son and his husband are killed, leaving behind their little girl, Arianna. Mya takes custody, therefore, and they both have to live without their son. Ike feels guilty because he didn't treat his son at all well. So when his son's father in law comes knocking, trying to get Ike to find out who killed their sons, Ike is riled up. But he says no - he's going straight now, he's a law abiding citizen - until the boys' graves are desecrated. Then, it's on. 

So yeah, Ike and Mya had a son, Isiah. When Isiah was young, Ike went to prison for manslaughter. I think he served about a decade, maybe a bit less. He was running with a gang beforehand, and in prison too. He leaves prison with gang tattoos on his hands. His gang name was 'Riot', which he has tattooed, but he's not that person anymore. He has gone straight by setting up a lawncare/gardening business, and employs a bunch of people under him. Mya is a nurse. Ike missed out on a bunch of milestones in Isiah's life. Isiah went to college and there he met Derek and came out. When Ike learnt of this, he flipped out and has never accepted his gay son. He refused to go to their wedding, and he's had very little to do with their daughter, Arianna. But when Isiah is killed, Ike realises the error of his ways and realises that he can never undo what he did. But maybe he can make amends? 

Derek, meanwhile, doesn't have much family at all. His mother and her new husband are conservative Christians who don't need a gay son married to a Black man to stop their political careers. His dad, Buddy Lee, is an alcoholic who has also served time and who is just a bit of a loser. Buddy Lee also didn't accept Derek and Isiah - he is a white redneck type who is quite racist and homophobic. But he desperately wants to find out who killed his son and Derek's husband, and the police seem to have let the trail go cold. 

So the two men head off together to try to find stuff out. They come across a white supremacist biker gang who have ties to local gangsters. They visit where Isiah worked - a queer newspaper - where they get an unhappy welcome. They visit the bakery where Derek worked and get some information. And they are visited, too. They go to a gay bar which doesn't end well. They know who they're looking for, but where is she? And how is she involved?

I did guess a couple of the red herrings but I get why Ike and Buddy Lee didn't because they're both kind of idiots. It's interesting actually because they're both really quite terrible people, and yet I still wanted them to succeed and I didn't really care what they did to achieve their aims. They were in the moral right. And they both did learn lessons about themselves, about each other, and about their sons and the world by the end. I also really liked the end - it was like an action film where everything just keeps crashing and burning and the bad guys just won't die. 

In all I'm giving this four out of five, with the above caveats. 

Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang - Review

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

I've heard so much about this book and have been tempted to buy it a bunch of times, but then I decided to put it on hold at the library. It took AGES to come through! It's also a book club choice for later in the year so I did wonder if I ought to save it until then but I really wanted to read it, and I also didn't want to miss my chance. I'm hoping to write enough of a review here that means I can remember the book in detail later in the year, but who knows if that will happen or not... Anyway, here we go. 

June Hayward is an author living in Washington DC. She went to Yale, studied Creative Writing, and has had her debut novel published. It was a thinly veiled look at siblinghood and June's relationship with her mother, and it sort of did okay. She's trying to work out what she wants to write next. She is friends with Athena Liu, who she went to college with, and who is a bright light in publishing circles currently. She has written a few brilliant novels about the Chinese diaspora. She is in demand and is just lauded all over. She and June are sort of friends - there's a lot of jealousy on June's part and Athena can be sort of disparaging and just sort of rude towards her. They're hanging out one night and they go back to Athena's apartment, and something happens and Athena ends up dying. June has seen a draft of a new novel that she has just finished next to her antique typewriter, and she ends up taking it. Stealing it. 

She is traumatised by Athena's death, for sure. She reads the novel, which isn't exactly a complete draft. It's about Chinese men who were sent to the front line in France during the first World War and Athena has left a lot of gaps but has outlined the whole thing and shown her research. June decides that she will 'polish' and refine the novel. She sells it amidst huge furore and it is a huge sensation when it hits the shelves. 

Some people are immediately suspicious, although they don't have specific proof that she has stolen it from Athena. But still, it's something like Athena would have written, and a lot of Chinese authors are (rightfully) annoyed that June (who is white) has taken this opportunity from a Chinese author. June begins to be 'cancelled' online. Then a Twitter purporting to be Athena's ghost lets out some information about June, and everything goes wrong. 

She is certain that no one actually has proof - and why shouldn't she have taken Athena's work? She made it better! Athena is dead... isn't she? But then June needs another idea, and there are more ideas in the work she stole... 

The book is a searing look at publishing and how it works, and at cancellation culture, which I liked. It also looks at who "should" be writing books and how Athena had been pushed into a corner too really, only "allowed" to write about Chinese people and their stories. Neither June nor Athena come off well. Neither does Athena's mum, who sort of could have done things that she refuses to do for reasons I'm not quite certain of. The book also looks at trolling and the impact it has on June. It is hard to not feel any sympathy for her even though she's incredibly self serving. There's also stuff about writing and how writers do steal everything and what the ethical lines are there. 

I do wish that we had learned what had happened to June's dad. It's obvious that he died quite shockingly when June and Rory were young, but it's never explained. I think it would have explained more about June and her relationship with her mother. 

I do also think that because June is looking back on the whole debacle later on, the book does a lot of 'telling' and not showing. She barely has any real time conversations with anyone, and she comes across a bit robotic. I did still find the book incredibly compelling and read it quickly, but this did annoy me.

In all I'm giving this four out of five because I did like it, and I do think it deserves quite a lot of its hype. I would recommend it!

Foster by Claire Keegan - Review

Saturday, March 16, 2024


I got this book for my birthday from Lee's brother and sister in law! As you may have seen, I've previously read two others of Claire Keegan's novellas and really enjoyed them. This one was on my wishlist which is where Lee's brother picked it from. It was a lovely present and I picked it up to take away with me on a work weekend where I knew I wouldn't have much time or energy for reading. It was perfect for that because it's so slight but still riveting. 

The protagonist of the story is never called by name, but she is a girl of maybe ten or eleven. She lives with her parents in Wexford, in a family with many siblings. Her mother is expecting again and, unable to cope, her parents have decided to send her 'down country' to some relatives of her mother's. She doesn't know them. They are the Kinsellas and they live on a small farm with a small bungalow. The girl is welcomed in, and given a little room of her own. There is no sign of a child but she is given a boy's clothes to wear and her room has train wallpaper. 

The girl flourishes under the care and attention of the Kinsellas. She spends her days helping around the farm and both John and Edna seem to genuinely care about her. Edna says something about how if she was theirs, she wouldn't be left in the company of strangers. They take the girl to town for clothes of her own and she learns that they did have a son, who died in a tragic accident. They are clearly still sad about it. The girl I think would have stayed there, but all too soon her dad turns up to take her back home and it seems like the Kinsellas will be saddened again by her leaving. 

I'm giving this four out of five; I really liked it.

A Swift Return by Fiona Barker, Illustrated by Howard Grey - Blog Tour and Review

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the tour for A Swift Return. It is a pleasure to welcome you here and I hope you will click around my blog to read some of my other reviews. I don't often review children's books, and I don't often read them as I don't have children, but I signed up to this because I really liked the sound of the book. 

It is written by Fiona Barker and illustratred by Howard Gray. I know that in children's books the illustrations are often as important as the words, because they provide visual cues for early readers so they can grasp the story, and because they add background details. The illustrations in this book are absolutely divine, and I would encourage you to spend some time looking at them if you read this book. 

The story is about a little girl, Aria, who "has her head in the clouds". Yousuf, meanwhile, has his feet firmly on the ground. They live near each other in an apartment block and watch the birds. One falls to the ground, injured. The two work together to nurse the swift back to health and later set her free too. 

I loved the book and would recommend it for your small ones. I'll be passing on my copy to my friend S and her little girl! 

The Djinn's Apple by Djamila Morani

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Hello and welcome to my blog for my stop on the tour for The Djinn's Apple by Djamila Morani. It is a pleasure to welcome you here. Please do have a click around and read some of my other reviews. 

I don't often read books in translation but this one was done in a lovely way. Here's to translators the world over! There were certain phrases that were just so beautiful and which added to this book feeling like poetry almost. It definitely feels like a bit of a dream. 

The book is set in Baghdad, in the Abbasid period of time, under that caliphate. This was new to me so I enjoyed learning a little bit about it. At the beginning of the book Nardeen is twelve and she lives with her parents, her two older brothers, and her little sister. Her dad is a doctor and a translator; he teaches Nardeen about healing the sick and so on. She wants to be a doctor too. The caliph doesn't like her family, and one night his men break in and kill all of Nardeen's famile except for her. She manages to escape, unsure who or what they are looking for. She comes round in a hospital and learns she has been captured as a slave and will be sold. 

However, then a man called Ishaq saves her from that. He is known to her and it's not entirely clear whose side he is on. But she trusts him and over the next four years they do build a sort of father/daughter relationship. Then he takes her to the hospital where he teaches, and includes her in the teaching even though the male students aren't too keen on this. But she can do things that the men can't, including treating high class women who can't be seen uncovered by men. Ishaq teaches Nardeen to trust in her instincts. She starts to fall in love. But she still wants to serve justice on the men who killed her family... what will she do when she comes face to face with one of them?

I loved the setting of this book and Nardeen is a great character. I loved the historical background and really I just wish it had been longer because I wanted more of it!

Thank you for reading. Please check out the other stops on the tour! 

None of This Is True by Lisa Jewell - Review

Thursday, February 29, 2024

You know I've really enjoyed Lisa Jewell's crime thrillers over the past couple of years, so when I heard of this one I thought it sounded right up my street. I searched for it at the library but it had a queue, so I put myself in it and then waited about four months for it to come through to me. But by that point it felt like a really nice present to myself! If you've read this I would love to hear your opinions on it because I'm not sure what was true and what wasn't!

At the beginning of the book two women are celebrating their birthdays. They are Alix, forty five years old, who is married to Nathan, and has two small children of like eleven and six. He earns a lot of money and she has a successful podcast. She has just finished her series about successful women and isn't really sure what to do next, and then she meets Josie. 

Josie happens to be in the same fancy restaurant that night, also celebrating her forty fifth birthday. For her and her husband Walter this is out of their ordinary as they don't generally eat at places like this restaurant. Walter is much older than Josie - like nearly thirty years older than her. They have two daughters, Erin and Roxy. They are both grown up now; Roxy disappeared five years ago when she was sixteen, and Erin still lives in the flat with Josie and Walter. There's clearly something going on with Erin but it's not clear as to exactly what. 

The two women meet in the toilets, have a brief discussion, and leave. Then Josie approaches Alix on a different day and says that she wants Alix to interview her for a podcast. Alix is intrigued and agrees to a test interview. Josie is unsettling (in fact she reads as neurodivergent, which really makes a lot of sense) but Alix is intrigued by her. Josie begins to tell the story of her and Walter - they met when Josie was just thirteen and she was groomed by him; she lost her virginity to him when she was sixteen and married him at eighteen, having her children shortly thereafter. She tells a story of him being controlling and violent, and the more they dig into her back story the more unsettled Alix becomes. But she somehow can't look away, especially when Josie makes serious allegations about Walter. 

Alix's life may look perfect on the outside, but actually things aren't what they seem. Nathan is a loving husband, but he keeps going on total benders where he drinks too much and disappears for hours. Alix is rapidly getting to the end of her tether and is considering divorce. Josie's whispers in her ears make her even more uncertain...

I was quite shocked by some of the twists and turns in the book. I also am really not sure what was true and what wasn't by the end. I'm not sure that any of the characters came off brilliantly. The podcast becomes a series with a bunch of other interviewees so right from the beginning it's obvious that something has gone terribly wrong... but what exactly? It's so intriguing. I really found it a fast paced page turned and I'm giving it four out of five!

The Last Slice of Rainbow by Joan Aiken - Review

Saturday, February 24, 2024

As I mentioned when I read The Silence of Herondale recently, I used to have this Joan Aiken book when I was very little, and absolutely loved it. It's one of the first books I remember loving, alongside Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl and others like them. I can remember it living on the shelf of my cabin bed in our tiny bedroom in the first house I lived it. God knows how many times I read it. I probably still have my original copy but it will be in the black hole of my mother's loft, so I just bought it again on eBay for a few quid. I picked it up and read it straight through. It is a children's book so not very complex, but the stories really give excellent depictions of fantasy worlds and like all good short stories drag you in immediately. I loved my reread!

The only story I remembered clearly was the titular one, about a little boy who wishes for a rainbow and then ends up having to give it all away. Rainbows are fleeting! You can't posess them! That's the moral of the first story and I was wondering if they would all have morals, but they don't. Which is good, but the mid eighties were a totally different time so I did wonder. I will also say that I wondered if there would be anything in this book that we would now consider 'problematic'. I'm thinking of Blyton and Dahl, both mentioned above, both of whom I really loved, but both of whom I now wouldn't read because of their racism, sexism, anti Semitism, and so on. Honestly children's literature has moved on so far in forty years which I'm really glad about, but it does make me nervous about revisiting some of my favourite books. However, I'm pleased to report that there wasn't anything in this book that I found offputting, which I'm glad about. 

As I read, I did remember another of the stories, in which a small boy called Tim gets tricked by a stone goblin. I loved that one, too. I didn't remember any others. I did think there was a bit of an over reliance on princesses and kings and queens, but that maybe was the fashion at the time. I liked the rich worlds of those stories anyway. I also liked that not all the protagonists of the stories were 'good'. We need a baddy every now and then! Maybe then they don't get their happy endings!

In all, I would recommend this for children these days as I think it would still go down well. My copy had some really lovely illustrations in it which I liked. I'm giving it four out of five. 

1979 by Val McDermid - Review

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

You may remember that last year I read 1989 by Val McDermid, not realising that it was the second in a series about journalist Allie Burns. I really enjoyed it so I wanted to read the first one. I bought it on Kindle a while ago but had forgotten about it. But then I was on holiday in Edinbugh last week, tabling at the Zine Fest and then staying with a friend for a few days, so I decided to read something set in Scotland and this fit the bill perfectly. I really enjoyed this book but I think I liked the second one more. Like the second book, it really has a lot going on, with many plot lines. I don't think it's detrimental to the book overall, but I do wonder if it would be better to split the lines into separate novels? 

So, in 1979 Allie is working for the Daily Clarion in Glasgow. She hasn't been there very long; newly returned to Scotland from university in England and is pretty new to journalism. She is always just given the 'miracle baby' stories and isn't taken seriously by her bosses or colleagues. The miracle baby is genuinely one given to her after she and her colleague Danny witness a baby being born on a stopped train on New Year's Day on the way back to Glasgow. Allie is fed up, so when Danny suggests a story he might have she's willing go in on the investigating with him.

Danny's older brother Joseph has always been the golden boy in the family. He drives a flashy car and boasts about his high flying job with an investment company. Over Christmas he mentions something which means that the way the company works may be laundering money for rich clients. Danny starts looking into his brother's actions and asks some questions, and realises that money laundering is exactly what is happening. He and Allie start investigating, and take the story to their boss, but Danny realises he can't keep his brother's name out of it. He knows this is going to have a terrible effect on his family. 

They get the story and the credit, but at what cost? Allie starts hanging out with Rona (who I remembered as her girlfriend from the second book, so I knew where the relationship was headed) who works on the 'women's pages'. She tells Allie to keep an eye on some SNP meetings and the women involved. There is about to be a vote on Scottish devolution, and the SNP are getting antsy. While there, Allie meets three men who talk about forming a Scottish Republican Army, like the IRA, to force complete independence from England. Allie persuades Danny to infiltrate this group, and again she and Danny face danger in the pursuit of their story.

I did think the very ending of the book was a little bit anticlimatic. But maybe it is quite real in that way. The book has a lot of heart and emotion, and it's hard to not feel for both Allie and Danny in their ways. I loved the 1979 setting and all the sexism that Allie faced in her job and the way she was just fobbed off despite being a good writer and having excellent instincts. I also really liked the look at journalism at the time with all the copies of stories, the copy boys, the hierarchy of the newsroom, and all of that. There's less of this in the second one so I appreciated this look. Plus some of the stuff they had to do because there just weren't phones and computers around was totally wild. A totally different world and yet it really isn't that long ago. 

I'm giving this five out of five. Despite a couple of misgivings I did really like it. I have just learnt that 1999 is coming out later this year, so I will look forward to that! 

Heartstopper Vol 5 by Alice Oseman - Review

Saturday, February 17, 2024

It's the latest instalment of Heartstopper! Yay! I wanted to read this as soon as it came out, but it wasn't available in my library. Then it appeared, but I couldn't place a hold on it. So I asked the librarian to, and she was able to, so finally I had it in my hands! I picked it up last week, because I knew it would be an easy read while I was away in Edinburgh with my friend. I really enjoyed it and am glad I read it.

So as you may remember, Nick and Charlie have been together for a couple of years now and they've said 'I love you' to each other, and they're out to everyone important in their lives. Nick is in the sixth form so he's having to start making some decisions about his future. Meanwhile Charlie is sitting his GCSEs.

Charlie is mostly in recovery from anorexia, but it's something they both keep in mind during this book. They want to stay over with each other, but their parents aren't too sure. There's funny bits about keeping the door open and stuff. Charlie's parents say they can have a sleepover once Charlie's exams are over, which they do. They have some sexual contact and they're both really happy about it - but Nick doesn't really have friends to talk to about it so he's a bit sad about that. The sex stuff is really cute, not explicit but adorable between the two of them. Charlie is a bit anxious about his body and I'm glad that it was shown that they talked about it. 

Meanwhile, Nick says he's going to go to the University of Kent so that he can stay near Charlie instead of them having to be long distance like Elle and Tao. But he drives Elle and Tara on a bit of a road trip around some universities. He really likes Leeds Uni (and so he should, Leeds is great) but can he bear to be so far away from Charlie? He talks to Elle and Tara about his relationship with Charlie and it was really nice to see him being more open in general.

The art is as usual just really cute. I liked a lot of the little details like when they're kissing or cuddling. I liked the sort of dotty bits where at one point Charlie was like 'fine' and the picture of his face was adorable. I liked again how Alice showed text conversations between a few different people. I liked the depictions of the universities - trips that I remember well myself - and I liked how Nick really grew in this book in particular. In all I'm giving this five out of five because I love them, and I'll be really sad to say goodbye to them in Vol 6! 

The Lost Man by Jane Harper - Review

Sunday, February 11, 2024

This was the February book choice for my book club and as usual it wasn't something I would have ever looked at twice I don't think. But I was incredibly intrigued by it so picked it up at the beginning of February. It took me a week to read because at the beginning I didn't really get it and was taking ages to read just a few pages. But then something clicked in and I realised it was all coming together and a lot of hints had been there to guide you into realising what happened. I raced through the last third. 

So, the book is about a family who live in the middle of the outback absolutely miles away from anywhere. Nathan is the protagonist of the book. Right at the beginning he is driving with his son to the stockman's grave, which is on the Bright cattle station, which is huge. It's in the far south east of the property, which isn't too far from the road that runs north/south. Nathan's property is much smaller, and is to the southern border of the Bright ranch. He struggles to run it, for reasons that become clear. Nathan's son Xander is sixteen and is visiting from Brisbane for Christmas. Nathan's ex, Jacqui, left him like a decade ago and is remarried, and they don't get on, but Nathan misses his son and wants to bridge the gaps between them. 

They arrive at the grave alongside Bub, Nathan's youngest brother. There they have been told is the body of the middle brother, Cameron. A police officer and a nurse, Steve, turn up to investigate the death. Cameron's car is found about ten kilometres away, on a rocky outcrop near where the north/south road meets the east/west road, which leads, in three hours' drive, to the local town, Balamara. Cameron could have walked away from his car, but why? He clearly had no supplies with him and has died from the heat and dehydration from being exposed near the grave. There are no injuries on his body. When they find the car, they realise he could have kept himself going for a while if he had stayed close to it - he had water, food, first aid, fuel - all the things that the whole family needs to keep in their cars in case they get stranded or something. So why would he walk away? And why was he at the grave?

Nathan and Xander head back to the Bright house and don't go back to Nathan's. There a few people also live. There's Liz, the men's mum. Her husband Carl was killed in a car accident and his grave is on the homestead. He was a nasty and abusive person and throughout the book we learn some of the horrific things that he did to Nathan, Cameron, and Bub. There isn't much of a gap between Nathan and Cam so they grew up together, but there's then a decade between them and Bub, so he had a different experience of childhood. 

There's Ilse, Cameron's widow, and their two children, Sophie and Lois, who are like eight and five or something. Ilse is Dutch and she was a backpacker in the area and actually she had a bit of a thing with Nathan to begin with, but then he got into trouble in the town and she met Cameron, not realising they were brothers. Nathan clearly still holds a thing for her and tries to not be around her too much. Sophie has hurt her arm on her horse, which is one of the many things that becomes significant later. 

Harry also lives on the site, in a cabin. He is a ranchhand, and has been there since before Nathan was born. He's dependable and reliable, but he was heard arguing with Cameron shortly before his death. Then there are two backpackers from England, Simon and Katy. Katy is supposedly teaching the girls and Simon helps on the station. They are obviously weirded out that their boss is dead, and don't really know what to do. 

Nathan has been living a really lonely life because he is a pariah in the town. I won't spoil why but I think this will be an interesting discussion at book club as to whether we think he was justified or not. He finds it hard to be back in the cradle of his family, but he does want to know what happened to Cameron. 

The book has a really gothic feel to it. The isolation and the heat all conspire to add insecurity and fear to the book. It's oppressive. The Bright house seems dark and oppressive throughout the whole thing, looked upon as it is by the grave of Carl Bright. The isolation is just loopy - the spaces involved are just incomprehensible to my English brain. There's a map in the book which did really help. 

I really liked Nathan and wanted him to succeed. I did guess what the outcome might be as I was racing through the final third and I was glad I got it! I'm giving this five out of five and I'll definitely read something else by Jane Harper in the future. 

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan - Review

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

After I read another Claire Keegan book at the beginning of the year, I mentioned her on my book club WhatsApp, and Helena brought this book along for me to borrow. It's tiny - just forty seven pages long - so barely a novella really. But it is a good little story and as with her previous book there's a lot in what isn't said. 

So anyway, Cathal is probably about thirty-five ish - it's not stated and honestly he seems older, but he talks about wanting children with his fiancee, which gives a certain age range I think - and he's at work one Friday afternoon and everyone is being overly nice to him. His boss tells him to go home, but he doesn't; instead he stays until 5pm as usual and gets the bus home from Dublin to Arklow as usual. He starts to think about his relationship with Sabine, who was German or something - not Irish, anyway - and to whom Cathal was engaged. I think he did love her, but he was quite particular and was also quite resentful of the amount she spent on food ingredients to cook. Honestly it didn't sounded like he treated her brilliantly and, in fact, they have broken up and this day was supposed to be their wedding day.

I liked the book and am giving it four out of five! 

The Household by Stacey Halls - Review

Saturday, February 3, 2024

You know I've read and enjoyed a couple of others of Stacey's books, so when I saw this on Netgalley I requested it straight away. I am so thankful to Bonnier Books for granting access to me! This book will be published on the 11th of April, so only a couple of months away. I was provided with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

The book blends reality with fiction in a really brilliant way. One of the things we talk about at book club a lot is about when or where or if it is possible and ethical to write books about real people. My overarching feeling is that it's fine if it's long enough ago, if the people in question don't have heirs and relatives who are still alive. For instance, writing about Queen Victoria likely doesn't matter now, but writing about Queen Elizabeth II would have different ramifications. I know other people may have different lines here but that's where I am on it. I actually really wish I had chosen this for a book club book because I think we would have loved it. I've told everyone to read it!

So apparently in 1847 Charles Dickens and a woman called Angela Coutts put a load of money in to open up a thing called Urania Cottage. It aimed to take 'fallen women' who had been in prison or involved in prostitution or whatever, and train them up, out of the eyes of everyone else, for a life in service. The idea was to get them away from the problems and temptations of their former lives, and reform them into 'good' women. This was a real place and it really did do some of these things! Angela Coutts was a very wealthy heiress and she is one of the main characters in this book. Charles Dickens is also in it but barely appears, which I think was a good shout for the author. As Angela is much less well known it's easy to shape her into a character the reader cares about. 

Angela lives in a huge mansion near Regents Park and is accompanied by her old governess, Mrs Brown, and her husband, Dr Brown. Angela appears to live a charmed life - she is rich, she throws parties, she is fond of a duke who keeps rebuffing her offers of marriage (who, as I read later, is supposed to be the Duke of Wellington, but he's not named as such in the book). But she has a stalker, Richard Dunn. He has done many things to scare and threaten her and has spent time in prison for it, but at the beginning of the book he is released and Angela has to live under the threat of him again. She has police guarding her, but she's obviously still worried. 

She gets involved in Urania Cottage. The matron, Mrs Holdsworth, is stern but fair. Some of the first 'inmates' are Josephine and Martha. It's not exactly a prison, but there are very strict rules. The women are given a lot of luxuries, though, and lots of education and some freedoms. 

Josephine has been in prison - due to poverty - and there, has started a relationship with a woman called Annie. They are both offered the chance to go to Urania Cottage, where they will be trained to be servants, and from there, they will be deported to Australia to start lives there. It's a pretty good deal and Josephine jumps at the chance. Another woman there is Martha, who has spent time in a Magdalen Laundry, although her specific circumstances aren't spelt out. She is desperate to get back in touch with her sisters, Mary and Emily, but she can only find Mary. She enlists the help of Mrs Holdsworth's son, Frank, and also that of the home's chaplain, Mr Bryant. 

This is a really twisty and turny book and I was so intrigued to find out where it would go. I didn't guess a lot of the twists which was great and I was really pleased by them, they felt satisfying. There's a lot of characters which would be my only critcism, but the book also has a lot of scope so a lot of the characters are needed. It's a really interesting look at poverty in the middle of the 1900s, too, and I also really liked the descriptions of London and bits that are now definitely London but weren't then, like Shepherd's Bush. It felt like very really settings. 

In all I'm giving this five out of five as I really liked it. Thank you for the access, Bonnier Books! 

The Silence of Herondale by Joan Aiken - Review

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

I bought this book for Lee a couple of years ago because he likes gothic novels and I thought he'd enjoy this short book. He read it ages ago and did like it, and then I forgot about it until we were sorting out some books and he said I should read it, so I did. It took me longer than I thought because it's quite dense. But I did like it.

I read Joan Aiken when I was little and absolutely loved her, but I didn't know she had written any books for adults. I had a book of short stories by her called The Last Slice of Rainbow that I read over and over again, and in fact I've just bought it on eBay because I'd love to read it again as an adult. I must have seen this on my travels somewhere online and bought it for Lee. It's nice to revisit her as an author!

So, the book's main character is Deborah Lindsay. She's in her twenties and is an orphan after her parents were killed in a car accident. She is Canadian but living in Britain and in desperate need of a job. She applies to be the governess for a thirteen year old, Carreen Gilmartin. Carreen's aunt, Mrs Morne, is looking for a governess for her, but Carreen is no ordinary thirteen year old. Instead she is an illustrated playwright and is a prodigy, and has made quite a lot of money. Mrs Morne gives Deborah the job, and then gets to go shopping for Carreen. Deborah is then accused of shoplifting, but Mrs Morne saves her, something which comes back to bite Deborah later. 

Then Carreen goes missing, before Deborah can even meet her. It is thought that she has gone to the ancestral family home in Herondale in Yorkshire, to see her uncle John, Mrs Morne's brother. He lives in a huge hall on the edge of Herondale village but he is in ailing health and about to die. Deborah leaves immediately, hoping to find Carreen there. 

In the village she finds mostly silence and suspicion. The caretaker type person, Mr Bridie, and the housekeeper, Mrs Lewthwaite, have both left the house as John has been taken into hospital. Deborah opens up the house and finds that John's bedroom is wet, a window having been left open. She finds his gun and keeps it close. She notices a few other odd things. Carreen does indeed arrive, alongside her new found cousin, Jeremy, who belongs to another of Mrs Morne's brothers. Deborah is immediately suspicious of him, especially when the gun goes missing and a heavy weight on the pump is cut and could have injured someone.

All this is exacerbated by the breaking out of prison of a murderer known as the Slipper Killer. Jock Nash comes from Herondale and is expected to make his way back there. He murdered a man for digging up a rare orchid on the moors nearby. Police turn up in the village to search for him, but there is still a veil of silence. 

In all I did like the book and found it a good story, but I didn't think it quite hit the mark of being truly creepy or frightening. The setting - remote Yorkshire village, lots of snow etc - is brilliant, but it wasn't quite used to its full potential. I liked Deborah a lot and wanted her to succeed. I did like some of the twists towards the end. In all I'm giving this four out of five. 

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid-Banks - Review

Saturday, January 27, 2024


I got this book for Christmas from a book swap I did based on Twitter. My partner and I sent each other some information about the type of book we like, and I mentioned that I'm a fan of kitchen sink drama. I think that's why Jon chose this book, and I have to say, he did brilliantly because that's exactly what this is. I hadn't heard of the book before, or even the author, so I am really glad to read her for the first time and have another author opened up to me.

The book was published in 1960 and first of all I have to say it is very reflective of its time in terms of attitudes and bigotry. That is my main caveat in this review, because I really enjoyed the book but clearly didn't like the discriminatory language used. I'll get to that...

So, Jane Graham is the heroine of this book. At the very beginning she moves into an L-shaped room at the top of a dingy boarding house in Fulham. I didn't fully understand the layout but she's got two arms to the room because another room has been carved out of the space. This room doesn't have a window, so Jane is surprised on nearly her first night when a face appears at the window on the partition between their rooms. The face belongs to John, a black jazz musician. Below Jane are Mavis, whose room is full of knickknacks, and Toby, a writer. There's also the owner, Doris, and her chap, Charlie. In the basement are two sex workers. 

Jane has had to move out of her nice family home because she is pregnant. Her own mother died giving birth to her so it's always just been her and her dad, with some family who visited at Christmas. Jane is twenty-seven and until the sexual encounter that got her pregnant, was a virgin. She had toured as an actor with a troupe in her early twenties, and there met the man she refers to only as The Actor. She had to leave and then got a job in a hotel in the west end. She has carved a niche for herself there and really respects her boss, James, but she knows that she will have to give up her job when the baby is born. When she told her father the news, he told her to leave his house, hence why she has ended up in the boarding house. 

She meets the other inhabitants of the house, and starts a relationship with Toby. She brightens up the room even though Doris isn't happy about this, with the help of John and Toby. The book encompasses nearly the whole of her pregnancy, but it has a lot of other stuff too, going backwards in Jane's life to give a complete picture of her life. I really liked Jane and I liked her aunt Addy. I liked Toby and John and the sex workers in the basement. I could imagine the house perfectly and thought it was really true to life. I would definitely give the book five out of five for its story and its perfect kitchen sink drama. 

However, the racism and homophobia really put me off. John is black and I think he suffers most from Jane's racism. She really 'others' him. It's not like she dislikes him, but she's fascinated by his blackness and his skin and the way he speaks. There is more outward racism towards him from other characters, including Jane's dad. Then Toby is Jewish, and the K slur is used towards him and other Jews many times in the book although, again, not from Jane's point of view. I don't think SHE minds Jewish people as much as she minds black people, but she doesn't really call other people out. She is however disdainful towards a queer ex colleague of hers. So just be aware of these attitudes and words in the book if you read it.

I do think this is really representative of its time, when people really did look down on people who were different to them. Jane's attitudes don't seem like anything out of the ordinary - for the time. But does that mean I have to like it? No. 


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